Despite being oft-credited with reinventing rock and roll, and laying the foundations for almost every musical movement that would spew forth from it, The Beatles might not be quite as revolutionary as we’ve been led to believe.
New research by a group of London academics claims the emergence of hip hop did much more to rattle the foundations of popular music than the fab four ever did.
Using data analysis to pinpoint musical trends in the US pop charts, the group’s study claims that the so-called “British invasion” of the early ’60s, which included highly influential acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, actually just followed musical trends that already existed.
As The Guardian reports, the eggheads from the school of electronic engineering and computer science at Queen Mary University of London found that the music styles of such bands, which they’ve also “measured” by properties such as “chord changes” and “tone” (science, bitch!) – was already well-established in the US charts before John, Paul, George and Ringo ever hopped a plane over there.
Hip hop music, on the other hand, which crash-landed into the charts with bands such as Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, Kool Moe Dee and The Sugarhill Gang, “reinvented the musical landscape like nothing before or since”.
Essentially, the hip hop genre changed the game entirely by introducing new musical elements, such as faster rhythms and rap-style singing into mainstream musical culture. And they’ve proved this by using music website Last.fm to gather data, and employing methods like “signal processing” and “text-mining” to “analyse” the musical properties of various songs.
However, not everyone is convinced by the research, with one senior university music lecturer greeting their findings with particularly raised eyebrows.
“Popular music cannot be ‘measured’ in this way – what about reception, the political economy, subcultures?” Professor Mike Brocken, director of the world’s first Beatles masters degree told The Guardian. “So my first instincts are to question any study that uses the dreaded data analysis.”
“The Beatles ‘communicated’ things to people; whether it was via an A-minor chord or an A-major chord really does not make the slightest difference,” he added. “Semiotic approaches yield far more than chord shapes and time signatures.”
“Most decent popular music researchers would probably agree that The Beatles were not so much innovators as musical magpies – and that’s not a criticism. They, like all of us, listened to all sorts of stuff and were duly inspired,” he said.
Plus, they all lived in a yellow submarine.
Watch: The Beatles – Revolution
Watch: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – The Message